Polk County Water Quality Advisory: Blue Green Algae and Toxins

Polk County Water Quality Advisory: Blue Green Algae and Toxins

Blue-green algae, technically known as cyanobacteria, are microscopic organisms that are naturally present in lakes and streams. They are usually present in low numbers. Blue-green algae can become very abundant in warm, shallow, undisturbed surface water that receives a lot of sunlight. When this occurs, they can form blooms that discolor the water or produce floating rafts or scums on the surface of the water.

Some blue-green algae produce toxins that could pose a health risk to people and animals when they are exposed to them in large enough quantities. Health effects could occur when surface scums or water containing high levels of blue-green algal toxins are swallowed, through contact with the skin or when airborne droplets containing toxins are inhaled while swimming, bathing or showering.

The Polk County Health Department and Polk County Land and Water Resources Department have fielded numerous calls this week regarding blue green algae in Polk County lakes.  Many lakes are experiencing extensive blue green algae blooms which are capable of producing toxins that can be dangerous to humans and pets.  Exposure to blue green algae can produce the following symptoms in pets and humans: stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, muscle weakness, difficulty breathing, and seizures.  Extreme cases of exposure can lead to liver failure, respiratory failure, and death.

For your safety if water is cloudy, looks like green paint or pea soup, or has a floating scum layer or floating clumps: do not swim or swallow water, do not allow pets to swim or drink, and do not allow children to play with scum layers even from the shore.

If you are experiencing symptoms related to exposure contact your doctor or the Poison Information Hotline immediately (800-222-1222).  For more information or to report a blue green algae bloom in Polk County please contact the Health Department (715) 485-8500 or the Land and Water Resources Department (715) 485-8699.

Examples from 3 area lakes below. Select to enlarge.